“The first time I was ever catcalled, I was 12 years old. When I told others about my experience, I was bombarded with numerous questions. ‘What were you wearing?’ ‘Did you give them a smile that would make them think you wanted it?’ ‘Why were you walking by yourself?’ I felt ashamed of my body and disgusted by my own skin. For years, I recoiled at anything that made me feel sexy.
Since that first experience, I’ve been hollered at, followed down sidewalks, and grabbed by strangers as they cursed me out for ignoring them. I’ve been called every name. When I took out the trash two nights ago, in my oversized t-shirt and shorts, I passed by a group of men sitting on a bench.
I couldn’t help but feel that familiar tension in my chest, a knot in my throat as I heard their voices quickly rise as I walked by. Wrapping my arms around me, I resisted the urge to feel small. I wanted to shrink to the size of a pea. I wanted to be unseen. But truth be told, they already made me feel small. I was already a pea, a squashed-up, mashed rotting pea on the underside of a shoe. They hollered and laughed. One whistled. Another said, ‘Look at this fine ass.’ I felt a sinking anger all over again. I was an object to them, not a human.
So, I started wearing clothes that made me feel ‘modest’.
When I came to college, a girl who was seated outside of the library approached me. ‘Can you walk to my dorm with me?’ she asked. She was a complete stranger. Her eyes darted nervously as she slipped her keys in between her fingers and clenched her hand closed. She was scared to even walk.
Pepper spray, ringed fingers, keys, tasers, air horns, whistles. What do all these items have in common? These are things my friends have in their purses. These are what the women in my life have to carry in their palms when walking alone. Defense mechanisms. I taught myself self-defense and my brothers taught me pressure points to aim for when someone ever laid a hand on me. Not if… when.
When I changed my style, the harassment never changed. Although it took time, I realized that it wasn’t me all along. It was them. So, I decided to make a change in my life. For the last 4 years, I’ve been reclaiming myself. Reclaiming my skin and rejoicing in my body. I’ve surrounded myself with people who remind me that my skin is only mine. Those who remind me to keep my chin up, even when I want to cry every time they follow, curse, grab, yell, whistle, and holler.
So here is a reminder that your skin is ONLY yours. That you DO NOT deserve harassment, no matter what you are wearing. That you should wear whatever makes you feel the most confident and comfortable, whether that means covering up or showing more skin. It is YOUR choice and no one has the right to tell you otherwise. Today, I am wearing WHATEVER I want to wear.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Devin of Pennsylvania. Do you have a similar experience? Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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